Because of the ubiquitous spraying of Roundup on corn and soy that have been genetically modified to resist herbicides, the monarch is in bad trouble in the core of its range, where its sole host plant, milkweed, is disappearing.
Center for Biological Diversity


Each year, monarchs re-populate in the Corn Belt, that vast

agricultural region in America’s heartland where they lay their eggs

on milkweed plants in spring while migrating north to Canada.


My friend Cruz and I stand in what used to be a cornfield, now

his handiwork of garden plots for immigrant families and milkweed plants

to provide a landing pad for sojourning monarchs to lay their eggs.


Here, they reproduce, and the caterpillars are sometimes whisked into jars

and kept in homes, then freed after incubation to ensure that yet

another butterfly survives the season despite


their overall declining numbers worldwide. I hold

my own jar frocked with milkweed stem as Cruz tells me how long

until the caterpillar will incubate and how long incubation will be. But,


once home the caterpillar eats and eats its way up the stem in the jar

then dies there, a long white string extending from its body.

My daughter says that this string is a sign of a pre-existing parasite.


Not your fault mom, she says staring into her computer where she reads

all about monarch diseases and death. Still, that gnawing sensation

that I failed a whole species by not saving this one, not knowing


what could have been done to cure it of the tiny predator

under its flesh. Peering into the glass jar, insect shriveled and dangling,

I am reminded that three years ago, my family witnessed


my shaken mind as the memories of childhood sexual assault

came rushing back and, like a tiny predator, traveled through my psyche

feasting on the tissue of my present and future


with terrors from my past. They watched, but could do nothing

to save me from this unraveling and, in their own fear of exposure

as helpless and vulnerable gods, accused me then and there


of dying, then turned away—as I began, alone, working out my narratives

hoping they would appreciate my trying. The caterpillar

hung in the jar for a whole two weeks before I decided to clean it out


as I let our mutual helplessness exist between us, refusing to ignore

its obvious shame. Love is never a failure, a friend of mine tells me,

and I know he means to add, even if its lost.


I caress the side of the jar consoling myself concerning this dead would-be

monarch, its tiny fingerlike worm sutured to the lid

knowing how long and hard it fought to accomplish just this much.